To date is terrifying, the second season of Never Kiss Your Best Friend reminds us, unintentionally. To patiently, discerningly listen to someone else's life story filtered through their self-pity and irony? We all must have, at some point, contemplated becoming a nun, instead.
Imagine watching this happen twice, squirming with second-hand embarrassment, at prepped, good looking people saying polished, sweet-nothings at each other. Double the posturing, double the charming audacity, double the daddy issues. ("So we both have daddy issues?" a character laughs at another character after they respectively play daddy-trauma table tennis.)
The second season of the sugar rush Never Kiss Your Best Friend, also set in London, lays bare the problem with gooey rom-com writers like Durjoy Dutta, Sumrit Shahi, Ravinder Singh — the first two are among the many writers of this show (Mishkka Shekhawat, Mehak Jamal, Harsh Dedhia) while the third writes platitudes and gross affections on a whiteboard and posts it on Instagram. Sample this: "Makeup sex is the best outcome of a fierce fight", "Her desires: romantic mood. My desires: lust". Then, sample this dialogue from the show: "In a world full of variables, we are each other's constants."
In their writing, they want to remain at the surface of love, where expression has more weight than action, performance has more passion than silence, irony and wit are interchangeable. Love is an abstract aesthetic that they have made a business of. It makes the writing easier, certainly — throw rose petals at the page. It sidesteps complexity by pretending there is none to contend with.
In a bid to add complexity and drama, they try to infuse jealousy into the tale but the love itself is so watery, without foundation or friction, chemistry or cut, nothing feels at stake.
In the first season, the show cleverly stayed close to the two main protagonists, their push and pull over the years. Tanie (Anya Singh) was waiting for "true-love-vala-sex" and Sumer (Nakuul Mehta) was slutting his way through life. The second season widens the canvas, each one is given a lover to pursue and that same rigmarole, the same carpet bombing of flirtations begins to grate, especially because now it is two couples coo-ing at each other.
There is Karan (Karan Wahi) who is "zaroorat se zyaada hot" and Lavanya (Sarah Jane Dias) who looks "ekdum jazz music ki tarah hai, par effect, ekdum hard rock." There is also Tanie's uncle (Jaaved Jaaferi) and Karan's mother (Deepti Bhatnagar), a parallel, aged love which, for some odd reason, retains the same airbrushed, spit-less, vanilla beauty, burnished by the London landscape — glittering ice-blue fairy lights on the streets, double decker open-air deep red buses, cobblestoned paths — and manicured styling with all women cinching their sweaters with belts, and the coats, so many coats! (Production design is by Natasha Gauba and costume design is by Rick Roy.)
In a bid to add complexity and drama, they try to infuse jealousy into the tale but the love itself is so watery, without foundation or friction, chemistry or cut, nothing feels at stake. Tanie, who frequently breaks the fourth wall but lacks the edge or humour of a Fleabag, has to choose between two men — a best friend, a boyfriend. But this has the same breezy tug of choosing between two fruits at a market. Where are the hazards in this love, in the choices love forces upon you?
The makers have, instead, codified romance into an aesthetic of casual-cool, giving lovers the same depth and reach of inspirational quotes on walls of corporate offices ("You got this" "Find a way or make one"). Not just the romance of love, but life, too. Sample this dialogue where a character casually, unironically proclaims, "Cafe bechkar duniya dekhne jaa rahi hoon." Another walks around DVD parlours and boat bookshops. Nakuul Mehta described the show as "Emily in Paris but in Andheri, shot in London", but we forget that what made that show tick was that it brought its expensive, apparent beauty — of people, purses, pumps, puffs — and rammed it into a story of constant drama, each character given just enough cloth to produce tension, hazards, stakes. A background score that thut-thut-thuts doesn't cut it.
After an onslaught of tier-two Tarrantinos, Never Kiss Your Best Friend Season 1 was a rose-scented breeze, harkening back to the Yash Chopra genre of swoon and swish, chiffon and champagne.
Besides, when you invite so many characters to share space in a narrative, the writing has to be capable of producing a throbbing life for each one. Here, between their appearances, it feels like their life is still, with nothing happening in the interim. Back stories are hurled in sentences and forgotten. Here is Karan: "You know my dad was a stubborn man. Unki isi habit se we lost everything. Toh maine apne aap ko promise kar diya tha, ki mein kabhi stubborn nahin banunga." (Told you about the daddy issues of this show.) There is no mention of this confession, this tragedy, after. Trauma is best established to explain a mopey character and then, ether. As though they have nothing inherently dramatic or broken about their life, all their drama and brokenness comes from their parents, instead.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on this sugar pill, but this comes from a deep investment in love stories and worry about their receding hold on the contemporary cinematic landscape. After an onslaught of tier-two Tarrantinos, Never Kiss Your Best Friend Season 1 was a rose-scented breeze, harkening back to the Yash Chopra genre of swoon and swish, chiffon and champagne. All beauty — in words and sights — anchored by strange obsessions, strong feelings, and deep, abiding connections. Another season of Never Kiss Your Best Friend meant another promise, to take this love further; while retaining the moorings of plush set and costume design, pulling the emotional threads further. But I forgot that if you keep pulling threads, the fabric ceases. You should know when to just take the scissor and in a moment of self-control, snip the tempting, dangling thread.